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Toxicity and GM Food

Genetically modified food was declared too safe to label years ago. Greenpeace has been fighting to have Monsanto’s original data released. Their RoundUp resistant crops (“RoundUp Ready” in adspeak) and Bt corn are a large majority of GM crops worldwide. Monsanto lost some legal cases, the data finally became available, and have now been reanalyzed. (Via Slashdot)

The bottom line? You don’t have to stop eating, but it is time to get really, really, really mad.

(Background info for those who’d like it: Monsanto produces RoundUp, a glyphosate-based herbicide. That interferes with plant growth via a pathway not present in animals, although some of the significant molecules in the pathway are also vital in animals. Monsanto also produces the patented crop seeds that resist the herbicide. Then farmers can use more RoundUp to get rid of the increasingly resistant weeds without also killing their crop. In some places, resistant weeds make it unprofitable to grow anything except the patented seeds. RoundUp is widely used on corn and soybeans. Bt corn enables the plant itself to produce a substance toxic to many insect larvae by an insect-specific pathway that doesn’t affect mammals.)

Way back in another lifetime (the 1990s feel like ancient history for some reason) there was widespread concern about the rapid proliferation of GM food. Frankenfoods they were called. In the tabloid concept, these mutant monsters would infect us with extra heads or glowing green tumors. Those concerns were easy to laugh at, and they were. It was gently pointed out that humans are not plants. Dissidents, including me, have said for a while that there are real concerns, but the money was all on the other side. Oddly enough for such an open and shut case, Monsanto was adamant that nobody could see the data that proved how safe it all was.

Now that data is out there. The most charitable view is that they were so convinced of the safety they didn’t feel the need to make sure of it. The uncharitable view is that they cherrypicked the facts to reach the foregone conclusion. I’ll let the article speak for itself. (Numbers in square brackets refer to their references, which are linked in the original article.)

The three animal feeding studies were conducted in two different laboratories and at two different dates; at Monsanto (Missouri, USA) for NK 603 and MON 810 (June 7, 2000) and at Covance Laboratories Inc. (Virginia, USA) for MON 863 (March 14, 2001) on behalf of Monsanto. … Only 10 rats were measured per group for blood and urine parameters and served as the basis for the major statistical analyses conducted. … We note that these unrelated, different non-GM maize types [in the control groups] were not shown to be substantially equivalent to the GMOs. The quantity of some sugars, ions, salts, and pesticide residues, do in fact differ from line to line, for example in the non-GM reference groups. [I.e. the controls did not provide a stable reference point, but varied in ways that could affect the results. --Ed.] This not only introduced unnecessary sources of variability but also increased considerably the number of rats fed a normal non-GM diet (320) compared to the GM-fed groups (80) per transformation event, which considerably unbalances the experimental design. …

The most fundamental point to bear in mind from the outset is that a sample size of 10 for biochemical parameters measured two times in 90 days is largely insufficient to ensure an acceptable degree of power to the statistical analysis performed and presented by Monsanto. … This is exemplified when Monsanto performed one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) calculations at 5% with a sample size of 10 animals for 10 groups. In this case the probability of not detecting a medium size effect [3] (0.5 SD for a t test for instance) is about 70% (power of the test 30%). However, the fact is that within 90 days, a chronic toxicity has a maximum chance of giving rise to a medium rather than large size effects. [I. e. chronic effects would be expected in the long term, but the design looked for acute effects in the short term. --Ed.] …

In summary, the tendency for physiological disturbance is characteristic of almost all rats of all GM-fed treatment groups, and physio-pathological profiles differ according to dose or sex. …

If a “sign of toxicity” may only provoke a reaction, pathology or a poisoning, a so-called “toxic effect” is without doubt deleterious on a short or a long term. Clearly, the statistically significant effects observed here for all three GM maize varieties investigated are signs of toxicity rather than proofs of toxicity [because there isn't enough data for proof]. …

The first observation that we were able to make was that there is a good general concordance between our data and the results of Monsanto as presented in their original confidential reports, in particular on the proportion of statistically significant observations. However, the methodology we employed revealed different effects, which completely changed the interpretation of the experimental results. For instance, the sex differences are fully taken into account in our study, which contrasts with the first published comments of these data [18, 26, 27]. …

We have previously demonstrated that glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup are highly toxic at very low concentrations to human embryonic kidney cells [36], inducing a decrease in viability, noticeably via inhibition of mitochondrial succinate dehydrogenase. …

Patho-physiological profiles are unique for each GM crop/food, underlining the necessity for a case-by-case evaluation of their safety, as is largely admitted and agreed by regulators. It is not possible to make comments concerning any general, similar subchronic toxic effect for all GM foods. However, in the three GM maize varieties that formed the basis of this investigation, new side effects linked to the consumption of these cereals were revealed, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM type. … This [hepatorenal toxicity] can be due to the new pesticides (herbicide or insecticide) present specifically in each type of GM maize, although unintended metabolic effects due to the mutagenic properties of the GM transformation process cannot be excluded [42]. … In conclusion, our data presented here strongly recommend that additional long-term (up to 2 years) animal feeding studies be performed in at least three species, preferably also multi-generational, to provide true scientifically valid data on the acute and chronic toxic effects of GM crops, feed and foods. Our analysis highlights that the kidneys and liver as particularly important on which to focus such research as there was a clear negative impact on the function of these organs in rats consuming GM maize varieties for just 90 days.

The good news is that since males are affected more than females, something may be done about this. The bad news is that the known effects so far don’t include ED, so maybe nothing will be done.

Seriously, though, this is an unbelievable mess. You don’t have to stop eating because these are all chronic effects, and it’s not likely to make a big difference if one consumes GMOs for a few more years until we know for sure whether there’s a problem or not. But that’s all the “good” news there is. Regulators in the US bamboozled us and then the rest of the world into not so much as labelling for genetic modification. Now it’s everywhere, and crops are dependent on it. If further research shows chronic toxicity and the RoundUp resistant and Bt products have to be pulled, crop failures will make prices shoot skyward. In the rich countries, that’s an annoyance. In the poor countries, that can mean famine. We are, in short, screwed. For Monsanto’s chance to make a few billion, we’re going to be paying hundreds of billions. (I just saw that line somewhere else before ….)

For me, there are several morals to this story, in addition to cleaning up the mess we already have. It shows what we have to do to prevent this crap in the future:

–Always insist on clear labelling.

–Always insist on full publication of all backup data before regulatory approval.

–And, I think, have penalties, such as jail time, for regulators who rubberstamp studies with such bad methodology. When somebody with one year of statistics can see a problem instantly (“A sample size of ten?”), the regulators have zero excuse.

, frankenfoods, , Vendomois, IJBS